7 Ways Employees Hold You Hostage | Overcoming Resistance

Ever feel like your hands are tied? That your best efforts are getting you nowhere?

If so, it’s time to look closely at what’s going on around you. 

Whether you’re a supervisor, a team leader, or a coworker, you need the cooperation of others to get your work done. 

There’s always information, a decision, a deliverable, or a resource needed to bring an assignment to closure. The employee who controls any one of them has the power to help or hinder us. 

To be held hostage by our employees and coworkers is to be manipulated by them for their own purposes. They withhold what we need to get what they want. 


For some employees, it’s a tactic to insulate themselves from criticism or position themselves for reward. 

It may be a sign that employees think their managers or coworkers are naïve, uninformed, unfair, or self-serving. 

It can also be a self-preservation tactic, an effort to protect their turf or to avoid changes that will expose their weaknesses. 

The 7 signs   

Hostage-taking at work doesn’t unfold like it does on the high seas. It’s gradual and often unnoticed until we’re stymied. 

To avoid being ensnared, we need to pay attention to what we see and what we hear, asking questions and intervening when there are signs. 

You know you’re being held hostage when: 

  1. You never get a straight answer—Information you request is never fully available, requires additional analysis, and can only be untangled by your employee.
  2. You’re told, “No one else can”—Your employee or coworker is the only person in your work group who has the knowledge, technical capability, experience, or access that is needed to complete the assignment. If s/he can’t do the work, you’re stuck.
  3. Your employee has the clout—An employee, not you, has the political pull with department heads, regulators, community/political leaders, and key customers. (This often happens to new managers who take over established departments of veteran employees.)
  4. You can be easily undercut— When your employee is perceived as knowing more about process mechanics, coworker issues, and customer concerns, s/he can marginalize your credibility.
  5. You’re out of the loop—When your employee gets sensitive and/or important information before you do, s/he is in a position to take action in a way that enhances his/her stature and diminishes yours.
  6. Employee loyalties shift—When employees have more confidence in the insights, direction, and knowledge of a coworker than you, that employee becomes a default leader, capable of supporting or undermining you.
  7. You can’t get things done—When your employees are pulling the strings, they are deciding what will get done and at what pace. Without you knowing it, you’re suddenly reporting to them. 

Now what? 

It’s an odd thing when an employee holds us hostage. We can try to ignore it, but I guarantee you, it won’t go away. I know because it’s happened to me.

The solution is to break free from the employee actions that are working against you by:

  • Holding employees accountable for delivering information/results as requested
  • Cross-training so there is always capability back-up
  • Building your own credibility with key players and influencers
  • Understanding the specifics about how work is done and the issues
  • Building strong internal relationships that will keep you informed
  • Working with your employees to build their trust and confidence
  • Developing a “get it done” culture and driving it 

You can only get caught in a hostage situation if you make yourself vulnerable. 

Employees don’t set out to undermine their supervisors or coworkers. Just like us, they want to succeed in what often looks like a tangled jungle to them. We all do what’s needed to keep our careers safe. 

Part of our job is to be a catalyst for the kind of shared success that comes from working together instead of being at odds. 

What have been your experiences? I’d love to hear from you. 

Photo: Duckie Hostage Crisis #001from jdsmith1021 via Flickr


New Employees Can Mean Trouble | Managing Team Chemistry

A filled vacancy starts with optimism. The boss is high on what the new employee can add to the team. Existing employees are relieved they didn’t have to absorb more work. 

Bosses usually start with an announcement before the person shows up. Employees hear about the new hire’s capabilities and experiences. They often hear high praise for how s/he will strengthen the team. Enough already! 

New employees mean change.   

Adding someone new to the mix changes its chemistry. A new teammate comes with unknowns like his/her: 

  • Personality traits, moods, ability and willingness to collaborate
  • Work ethic, skills and knowledge, learning curve
  • Personal aspirations, competitiveness, trustworthiness
  • Performance standards, communication style, principles

Existing employees are full of curiosity and questions, even if the new employee is someone they know or know about. Each will feel out the new person in their own way, deciding what kind of relationship they will try to build. In turn, they may also modify or adjust their relationships with others on the team. 

Everyone adjusts their alignments in some way. 

While this is going on, the boss is being watched to figure out: 

  • What is his/her relationship with the new employee?
  • Does the newbie enjoy any favored status?
  • Might the boss change his/her opinion of existing team members based on the way the new employee is accepted?  

By the natural order of things, the team dynamic starts to recalibrate. The pecking order is revisited. When supervisors don’t manage this change, they’re asking for trouble. 

Focus on the team 

Existing employees often feel diminished or even set aside when someone new comes on board. We often feel that we need to compete with this new person to show the boss that we are as good or better. 

The supervisor’s job is to create an environment where employees work effectively together, as a unit. That includes keeping a keen eye on the collective chemistry of the team, intervening when relationships aren’t what they need to be. 

Every time a new employee is added, the chemistry changes. It can be obvious immediately or surface gradually. Supervisors who guide these changes never miss a beat. 

Steps to take 

Smart supervisors take advantage of staff changes to refocus the team by following steps like these:

1. Gather the team together for introductions. 

  • Introduce the new employee and review their role.
  • Have each team member introduce themselves and summarize their role.
  • Comment, as the supervisor, on the value each contributes. 

2. Schedule a team meeting to revisit and update position descriptions. 

  • Explain the importance of keeping position descriptions current.
  • Have employees suggest description changes/additions/clarification.
  • Lead discussion to resolve issues and incorporate revisions.
  • Finalize description updates. 

4. Schedule a team meeting to review the status of work group goals. 

  • Share accomplishments to date and goals at risk.
  • Engage the new and existing employees in discussion about how they can/need to assist/support each other around specific goals.
  • State that you’ll be meeting with the new employee to finalize their individual goals so they align with the work group’s goals. 

5. Where useful, arrange for the new employee to spend time with each team member to learn about their work first-hand. 

The primary chemical element is you 

As supervisors, we are the first chemical element put in the beaker. The way we introduce and engage new employees demonstrates our recognition of how good chemistry can solidify a team. 

Supervisors who don’t understand or care about team chemistry will likely experience an eventual explosion. 

Show your team that you care by the way you manage their chemistry. There’s nothing better than elements that bond together to create something good. Avoid the big bang!  

Photo from Horia Varlan via Flickr